Fear not, ye arachnophobes. The subject of this entry is indeed about spiders, but the star of the show is about as cute as a spider can get. And you'll want to know what we're about to learn...
On my recent West Virginia foray, we were strolling down a seldom-used lane, when a bright yellow object caught our eye. It was a goldenrod crab spider, Misumena vatia, on top of a post! Not only that, she - it is a girl - was acting extraordinarily goofy. The spider would stilt up as high as she could go on her legs, weave back and forth, jig side to side, and otherwise engage in what appeared to be spider break-dancing.
Click the pic for expansion, and you can see two columns of silk issuing from her spinnerets. This is an important point, as we set about determining what this non-web-making spider is doing.
So fixated was our spider on her task that she even rejected what would seem to me to be a perfectly scrumptious meal. This little caterpillar climbed rapidly up the post and directly towards the spider on what seemed to be a certain suicide mission. "Ah, this should be interesting" thought I. The caterpillar threaded right between the spider's legs, paused, apparently came to its senses, and shot back down the post as if it had been ejected from a cannon.
This is why this group of flower spiders gets the badge "crab" spider. When poised for action, they resemble little long-legged crustaceans, and nothing - on their scale at least - will escape that embrace. That's why I figured she was fixated on some mission when she allowed the tasty hotdog-like caterpillar to go free.
Most spiders have eight eyes, as does the goldenrod crab spider. You can see 'em all, right there, like tiny pepper grains outlining that raised area on the spider's "forehead". This is the business end of the spider, and she was presenting it to your blogger when I moved in a bit too close for her comfort. She couldn't have done much to me, but you gotta admire her pluck for not backing down from a 250 pound humanoid.
I knew that tiny spiderlings balloon very commonly as way of dispersing from their natal homesite, but spiderlings are elfin in the extreme. This goldenrod crab spider was a chunk in comparison, and I didn't know that larger adults would also employ ballooning to shift locations. Apparently, all of its abdomen wriggling and funny movements helped to release the soon to be solken parachute strands in just the right way.